With a client list that would make any media maven envious, Allison Speer is a force in the world of public relations. As the former West Coast director of public relations and special events for Armani, she knows the fashion world inside and out, and she put those skills to impressive use when launching her own PR firm. This month, she’s celebrating the twentieth anniversary of Allison Speer PR and is offering Chairish an exclusive look inside her San Francisco home. See how Speer creates incredible table settings, learn how to throw a party your guests will never forget, and be sure to shop a collection of her Chairish favorites below.
Your client list is a who’s who of the fashion and design worlds…Tiffany, Valentino, Bottega Veneta, Prada, just to name a small sampling. How do you manage relationships with so many different clients, and how do you develop new projects?
I feel grateful to have top luxury brands as clients. I was director of West Coast events and PR for Giorgio Armani for eight years prior to starting my firm in 2001; that allowed me to build relationships with great talent in retail PR that I still work with today. I kept my firm name as Allison Speer PR, so my coworkers that I worked with (who left Armani) could always find me. For instance, the current CEO of Gucci USA was my assistant at Giorgio Armani, back in 1996. I am excited to be on contract with Gucci this year, working on an exciting in-person project coming up in June. ASPR has also been on contract with Tiffany & Co. for the last five years. I attribute this to having established a track record of delivering events that not only generate press and sales, but have helped develop a strong clientele.
Your firm has been launching brands in the Bay Area and throughout Northern California for over 20 years. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve seen in that time?
When I launched my firm in 2001, the first event I did was the opening of the CLIFT Hotel for Ian Schraeger. He asked me to deliver the top 100 VIP’s in San Francisco for opening night, so I had Danielle Steel, Willie Brown, Ann Getty, and Denise Hale all sitting on a couch drinking champagne with Ian and Philippe Starck… he provided Elizabeth Hurley and Patricia Arquette. Ten years later, if Ian said to deliver the top VIP’s in town, it would be Jony Ive, Marissa Mayer, Larry Ellison, Evan Williams, Marc Benioff, Mark Zuckerberg, and all the other hot tech titans. During the early 90’s, while I was with Armani SF, we worked with celebrities… I was dressing Sean Penn, Robin Williams, and Sharon Stone for VIP premieres, until they moved back to LA.
You’re someone who knows San Francisco inside and out. What’s your favorite thing about the city?
I love San Francisco because it has a European feel, being small and on the bay. I love being able to walk to the Golden Gate Bridge along Crissy Field from my house. Having grown up in LA, where you have to drive to get anywhere, I appreciate being within walking distance of great restaurants, hair and nail salons, and chic fashion boutiques, all in one block.
You’re well known for your exquisitely arranged tablescapes. What’s the key to putting together a beautiful table that guests will remember?
I love a great theme, whether it’s a holiday or a special celebration. For instance, when one of the designers I work with, Andrew Gn, comes to town from Paris, I plan a gorgeous chinoiserie-themed table. I use Imari plates, gold placemats, gorgeous crystal glasses, special monogrammed linens, and of course, gorgeous flowers. Andrew loves the Slanted Door, so I go with that menu, and alway have Kathy’s Kreative Cakes design a cake that replicates the dress of his that I wear to the dinner. It’s fun, memorable, and great for photos!
Who are some designers you like to collaborate with?
My mother was a decorator, so I have always loved collaborating with interior designers. In 2008, when my husband and I got married, Ken Fulk did our home and was great at merging both of our styles and our existing collections In the summer of 2019, we wanted to do a refresh of paint colors and furniture and worked with Allison Caccoma, who had opened Decoration SF. I was buying a lot of accessories in her store, so I knew she would get my look.
What are the most interesting trends right now in terms of setting the table, and what do you think will be the next big thing?
I think the reemergence of table linens and placemats. For a while, people were more minimal with their tables, but during Covid, many people had time to arrange flowers and really set a layered and thoughtful table. I think new plates became the new party dress, and new linens became the new high heels — at least for me they did!
There are so many amazing brands to choose from when it comes to creating gorgeous table designs. Who are some of your favorites?
During Covid, I had more time to research brands online, and I fell in love with linens, plates, and table accessories from Julia Amory, Mrs. Alice, Vio’s Cooking, Loulou La Dune, Elizabeth Lake, and Julia B. I also bought tons of my vintage plates and vases on Chairish. I love combining unique one-off table accessories to layer a table and personalize the look.
You’re also known for creating memorable events and impeccable entertaining. What’s the secret sauce for throwing a legendary party?
I think having a stunning table that is thoughtful and full of love is always appreciated. I love to give gifts at each place setting on the table. I often give my guests surprise crackers from Houses & Parties that have fun gifts inside, like a faux cocktail ring and fun crowns. I think entertainment is always fun. For a friend’s 50th, I did a Chinese New Year theme and had a Chinese dragon come do a dance in the backyard with drums — that was a big hit!
On Vintage Shopping…
What do you find most compelling about Chairish?
I love that you can log on, do a search for an item and get at least twenty options from different vendors and price points. I also love seeing images from the tastemakers that I admire. It’s a nice way to edit a selection.
Are there any dream vintage/antique “gets” you wish you could have? What’s a dream piece for you?
I would love a fabulous 18th-century secretary that I could fill with treasures and accessories.
What are three of your favorite pieces on Chairish now?
There is a Green Chinoiserie Six-Panel Hand Decorated Screen on the site that I have been eyeing. It has a floral motif with birds and foliage; I just need a place for it! I am also eying a gorgeous antique Venetian Glass Rezzonico Murano chandelier. I would love to hang it in our living room on Clay Street. I adore the Vintage Chinoiserie Red Lacquer Vitrines/Display Cabinets as well; they are just gorgeous and it’s so unique to find a pair.
Some Design Favorites…
Favorite way to create a statement-making moment in a room:
An incredible piece of art
Favorite decorating “cheap thrill:”
Flowers; you can buy something as simple as daffodils that will lift your spirit!
Favorite iconic piece of vintage design:
Favorite paint color:
Favorite piece of decor in your home:
Our set of four 18th-century Chinese panels, of a fortune teller giving fortunes. My husband and I purchased them at the San Francisco Fall Antiques Show from Daniel Stein, one of my favorite dealers. He had acquired them from a private owner in Pacific Heights. I love knowing the provenance of the panels. Before we purchased them, another dealer I know had acquired them at auction.
Favorite designer or artist from the past you most often turn to for inspiration:
Favorite style icon:
Design destination every creative should visit at least once:
Best piece of career advice you’ve ever received:
Do something you love and are passionate about.
Some Lifestyle Favorites…
Favorite vacation destination (the next time travel becomes an option):
Lake Como and Capri
Favorite hotel that’s inspired your work while traveling:
Cotogna — their pasta is my favorite, and I adore their fried chicken.
Favorite small museum:
Favorite Instagram accounts to follow:
Favorite hostess (or thank you) gift:
Anything from D. Porthault… their cocktail napkins, a candle, or a great design book!
Peony. I love all varieties, but Sarah Bernhardt is my favorite. I planted 15 new ones in Sun Valley and I can’t wait to see them bloom in July!
Favorite adult beverage:
Rosé — I love Whispering Angel.
Favorite way to unwind at home:
Set the table, cook, and have a glass of wine then a bath!
Favorite entertaining essential:
All photos by John Merkl, styled by Jody Kennedy, at the home of Allison Speer